The 2021/2022 football season has been fun to watch and will live long in the memories of fans, not just for the football alone.
No Ndidi, Iheanacho: Revealing Nigeria's best XI for the 2021/2022 season
The 2021/2022 campaign has turned out well for some Nigerian stars but not so much for others.
The season is the first time stadiums returned to full capacity after Covid-19 affected attendance in the two previous seasons. It has been a season, especially in Europe, full of exciting action.
Nigerian players have been fully involved in all these actions. Although only a few were involved in the title race in their respective leagues, the 2021/2022 season has been a good one for many Nigerian players.
Victor Osimhen will be disappointed to see Napoli stumble in the Serie A title race, but he will be playing Champions League football next year if he stays at the club.
Cyriel Dessers is another Nigerian star that could end up with a trophy this season if Feyenoord beat AS Roma in the UEFA Europa Conference League final on May 25.
There are also players like Emmanuel Dennis and Taiwo Awoniyi, who have had a great season. With many Nigerian players turning out good this campaign, Pulse Sports Nigeria reviews the best XI of Nigerian stars this season.
NB: This XI is only for players eligible and willing to represent Nigeria.
Goalkeeper [Adebayo Adeleye]
The goalkeeping department is Nigeria's weakest department. At the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, Maduka Okoye received harsh criticism following Nigeria's loss to Tunisia. His teammate Francis Uzoho did not fare any better in the World Cup playoff encounter against Ghana.
Their performances at club level have not been impressive, either. Okoye has played 28 times for Sparta Rotterdam this season, conceding 39 goals, while Uzoho has played 15 times for Omonia Nicosia, conceding 15 goals.
However, while it has not been a good season for Nigerian goalkeepers, there is still one who fared better than the rest, Adebayo Adeleye.
Although he has conceded almost the same number of goals as Okoye, his performance for Hapoel Jerusalem in Israel's top flight has received praise. A good shot-stopper, Adeleye is also adept with the ball at his feet and commanding in the air.
This season, he has seven clean sheets in 25 league games for Hapoel.
Right-back [Ola Aina]
Ola Aina fills in the right-back slot not because his performances have been great all season but because his competitors have not done enough.
Tyronne Ebuehi's loan stint at Venezia has not gone according to plan, while Abdullahi Shehu has had a below-par season in Cyprus.
In fairness, Aina was one of Nigeria's best defenders in the first half of the season. He played regularly for Torino and was one of their best players.
However, he lost his place after returning from AFCON duty with Nigeria. He has played a few games in the final part of the season.
Overall, Aina has played 20 times for Torino in the league this season, starting 16. He was also one of Nigeria's best players at the AFCON, which ran during the season.
It may not have been the best season for him, but he has done enough to seal the right-back spot.
Left-back [Zaidu Sanusi]
The left-back position is an easy pick that belongs to Zaidu Sanusi. When the new season started, Sanusi's place at Porto was under threat. The Nigerian international was heavily criticised for his performance in Porto's first two games of the season. A few days later, Porto announced the signing of Brazilian left-back Wendell from Bayer Leverkusen.
Wendell's arrival was supposed to reduce Sanusi's game time, but the Nigerian international won the challenge comfortably.
Sanusi made 39 appearances for Porto in the season, including 24 in the league and six in the Champions League group stages.
In contrast, Wendell made 28 appearances for the Portuguese champions this season. Sanusi's season ended on a high as he scored the goal that won Porto the league title.
Centre Back [Calvin Bassey]
There is no doubt that Calvin Bassey is Nigeria's breakthrough star of the season. Although he made his Rangers debut last, Bassey got into his full element this season. The 22-year-old has been one of Rangers' best players this season and was deservedly named the club's young player of the year.
While the Gers lost their Scottish Premiership title to Celtic, they excelled in Europe, with Bassey playing a key role. The young Nigerian's performances helped Rangers reach the Europa League Final, where they will face Eintracht Frankfurt.
The 22-year-old has played 13 games for Gers in Europe's second-tier competition, starting 11 of the matches.
He also made his Super Eagles debut this season, which is a testament to how good he has been. Bassey will hope to end the campaign on a high by helping Rangers win the Europa League.
Centre-Back [Leon Balogun]
Partnering with Bassey in the heart of the defence is Leon Balogun, who also plays for Rangers. While there are a few Nigerian defenders who have played more games than him, Balogun's performances have been at a high level.
Like Bassey, Balogun has also been influential in Rangers' run to the Europa League. The 33-year-old has played 36 times for the Gers this season, including ten in the Europa League. The ex-Mainz defender even chipped in two goals from his centre-back position.
Defensive midfielder [Rapahel Onyedika]
Wilfred Ndidi will always be Nigeria's best defensive midfielder, but he has not done enough to earn a place in the team's best XI for this season. The honour belongs to Raphael Onyedika.
Onyedika currently plays for FC Midtjylland in the Danish top flight. The 21-year-old replaced Frank Onyeka Onyeka- another Nigerian- and has not put a foot wrong.
He's a typical defensive midfielder, averaging 2.2 tackles per game. While Onyedika is known for his defensive attributes, he also has some attacking qualities which should be admired.
This season, he has made two assists in 29 league games and has created big chances. Still only 21, Onyedika will get better as he continues his development.
Central Midfielder [Alhassan Yusuf]
Another young midfielder Alhassan Yusuf joins Onyedika in the midfield. Yusuf is in line to become Nigeria's next top talent. His performances for Royal Antwerp in the Belgian league have received praises from different quarters.
Efficient at running with the ball and also a combative box-to-box midfielder, Yusuf is every manager's dream.
He has three goals in 31 league appearances for Antwerp this season and averages 2.0 tackles per game. Obviously, he still has a lot to improve on, but that is normal, considering he is only 21. However, he has done enough to earn himself a spot in this XI.
Attacking Midfielder [Joe Aribo]
There's only one option to fill the number ten role, and that is Joe Aribo. Although his form in the final part of the season was patchy, Aribo's brilliance this season is clear to see.
At a point, he was the clear favourite to win the player of the season in the Scottish Premiership.
Between August and January, he was heads and shoulders above every other player in the league. Although he suffered a downtime after returning from AFCON, he has picked it up again in recent games.
He has been key for Rangers in both the league and Europa League this season. At the national team level, Aribo was one of Nigeria's best players at the AFCON.
It is not just about the performance with Aribo, his consistency is also a thing to admire. Only Liverpool's Luis Diaz has played more games than Aribo (55) this season.
Right-winger [Taiwo Awoniyi]
There were question marks on how Taiwo Awoniyi would fare going into the season. He had impressed in his loan spell with Union Berlin last year, which earned him a permanent move.
Still, there were doubts over his ability to replicate last season's performance. However, Awoniyo has not only cleared those doubts, he has surpassed last season's feat.
He has been arguably Union's best player this season. The 24-year-old scored 20 goals and recorded five assists in 40 games for the Iron Ones.
Fourteen of his goals came in the Bundesliga, the joint-highest by a Nigerian in Europe's top five leagues this season.
The only sad news for Union is that Awoniyi may not be their player next season as he has been linked with a move away from the club.
Left-Winger [Emmanuel Dennis]
Emmanuel Dennis arrived in England with a lot of baggage, but the 24-year-old has managed to restore his reputation in his debut season in the Premier League.
Dennis broke into stardom when he scored twice against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2019. However, his career took a downward turn a year later. He ran into troubles at Club Brugge before he was loaned out to FC Cologne, where he also fell out with a couple of people.
After leaving Cologne, his career was at a crossroads. But Watford handed him a lifeline, and he has used it effectively.
Although the Hornets will not be playing in the Premier League next season, it is unlikely that Dennis will follow them to the Championship.
The 24-year-old was one of the few players that excelled in a rather disappointing season for Watford. He had a dream debut, scoring and providing an assist in his first league game.
Dennis went on to score nine more and record five assists to take his tally to 10 goals and six assists. He has had a hand in 48% of Watford's goals in the Premier League this season.
Considering how well he has done, there will be potential suitors when the window opens next month.
Striker [Victor Osimhen]
Apologies to Cyriel Dessers, Anthony Nwakaeme and Paul Onuachu, but no other person is qualified to lead the line than Victor Osimhen.
While Dessers has been brilliant for Feyenoord in the Conference League, his inconsistency in the league makes it hard for him to earn a spot in the XI.
Osimhen, meanwhile, keeps getting better each season. Despite missing two months of action, the 23-year-old has been Napoli's best player this season.
With 14 goals and five assists in 26 league games, he has helped Napoli return to the Champions League. It is his best-scoring season in Europe's top five leagues, eclipsing the 13 goals he scored for Lille in the French Ligue 1.
In addition, he also scored four in the Europa League this season. While genuine arguments could be made for Dessers, Osimhen takes the spot just for the level of competition in the Italian Serie A.